The thought of humans living in 3D printed habitats on Mars is incredible enough – but the idea that those habitats may be partially designed by average citizens sounds unbelievable. NASA has been very serious about the notion of crowd-sourced space travel, however, as demonstrated by their 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, which was announced last year and challenged interested participants to come up with designs for 3D printable, livable structures for potential use in deep space exploration as well as on Earth.
The first phase of the competition, which focused on architectural design concepts, was completed last September. Phase Two – the second out of three – was formally launched yesterday, this time with an emphasis on materials. Participants are asked to come up with ways to 3D print structural components from a either a combination of recycled materials and indigenous materials (soil, gravel, etc.) or from indigenous materials alone.
“Shelter is an obvious necessity as we prepare to explore worlds beyond our home planet, but space and weight aboard our vehicles are precious, and taken by the many other resources we will need for survival,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “That’s why we are seeking the technology to reuse the materials we will already be carrying, and combine them with what is already available at our destination, which is, in this case, soil. We recycle here on Earth – why not on Mars?”
For Phase Two, NASA has partnered with Bradley University, along with Caterpillar, Brick & Mortar Ventures, and Bechtel. $1.1 million in prize money is being offered, and anyone can enter. Teams are invited to register from now until January 31, 2017. In August 2017, teams will demonstrate their concepts at Caterpillar’s Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center in Peoria, Illinois.
“There’s no better way to solve big problems and come up with the next breakthrough than by working together with our customers, such as Bechtel, a true innovator in construction; a forward-thinking, sector-specific venture capital firm such as Brick & Mortar Ventures; our hometown University, Bradley, that is focused on innovation; and of course, NASA,” said Eric Reiners, Caterpillar research program manager. “Caterpillar and NASA have collaborated for years, and we are proud to work with NASA on this next great challenge.”
Phase Three of the challenge will launch next fall and will involve the actual building of 3D printed habitats. The 3D Printed Habitat Challenge is just one of NASA’s Centennial Challenges, which were begun in 2005 to encourage the active participation of citizen scientists in the advancement of space exploration technology.
“Innovation, collaboration and experiential learning, three of Bradley University’s core values, are at the heart of the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge with NASA and Caterpillar,” said Bradley University President Gary Roberts. “The challenge provides an unparalleled opportunity for students and faculty to network, create relationships with mentors and explore new ideas as they partner in creating solutions for our world and beyond.”
“We are looking forward to seeing some creative solutions,” added Darren Bechtel, Founder and Managing Director of Brick & Mortar Ventures. “Brick & Mortar Ventures believes that solution scarcity has contributed to the historic lack of productivity improvement in construction. By collaborating with NASA, Caterpillar and Bechtel, the Brick & Mortar team hopes to support the commercialization of technology developed for construction on the next frontier.”